Senate Passes Stopgap Budget to Avert Troop Pay Freeze

Capitol HIll

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday passed a temporary federal budget bill, taking a key step toward avoiding a government shutdown and freeze on troop pay at the end of the week.

The stop-gap bill to fund the federal government through Dec. 9 must now be passed in the House by Friday when the current annual budget expires. House leaders said they expected the bill to pass.

With three days until a shutdown, Republicans and Democrats hashed out a compromise over funding for the water crisis in Flint, Mich., which had held up the temporary budget bill.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was given assurances by Republicans and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that a separate bill with the water funding would be passed after the presidential election when Congress returns from a recess.

"I am convinced there is going to be help for Flint" in the lame-duck session, Reid said. "We have been waiting for a long time for this and it is going to happen."

Political brinksmanship this week threatened to grind government to a halt and cause financial headaches for active-duty troops if their paychecks were delayed.

It has become common on Capitol Hill where a year ago lawmakers were fighting over efforts to halt funding for abortion-provider Planned Parenthood, causing the Defense Department to warn its personnel of pay freezes and potential furloughs for hundreds of thousands of civilian workers.

Democrats defeated two attempts to bring the spending bill to a vote on the Senate floor Tuesday, demanding Republicans reopen negotiations so they could add $220 million to improve the public water systems in Flint, where contaminated drinking water exposed thousands of children to high levels of lead.

The budget bill already includes money for veteran and military construction projects, emergency funding to fight the Zika virus, aid for flood-damaged areas in Louisiana and funding to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic. But Senate Democrats, two of whom represent Michigan, said Flint has waited a year for aid.

To break the impasse, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said the House was set Wednesday afternoon to consider an amendment to a water infrastructure bill that would add money for Flint. The Senate plans to take up legislation after the November election.

"That will help unlock the [temporary budget bill], which has been stalling in the Senate, which now I think will be unstuck," Ryan said earlier Wednesday. "We should be able to move this through, I believe, before Friday."

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